Joyce Cooling is happy. No, I don’t just mean her mood at any given point in her obviously productive and lucrative career. I mean she represents happy. Her music sings happy, it cries happy, it feels happy. Her latest release, Global Cooling, with all of its smoothness and bluesiness and even exoticism, is happy. You feel the smiling groove from the opening notes of track one, a mid-tempo funky blues ditty, and that feeling follows you throughout this fine production.
From the moment the sassy, bluesy “Grass Roots” jumped off to the up-tempo title track with its pumping, driving rhythm section (kinda reminds one of the disco era), courtesy of Billy Johnson and Jay Wagner, to the sweet and sensual “Save This Dance For Me” with its modest hints of the Latin touch to “Cobra” with its tasteful nod to Indian culture and all of the exoticism of the East--and then through all cuts beyond, Cooling again shows why she is among the finest and most imaginative smooth jazz artists around.
The talented guitarist’s handling of themes and ideas is superb, as is evidenced in the hints of her leanings toward environmentalism which are on display on “What Are We Waiting For?” as she talks about a sun that may or may not warm you “to your core” and as she refers to a “clean machine that’s very green…to get us off gasoline.” The album even grabs a piece of Brazil in a couple of places, like on “Dolores In Pink,” and then there’s Joyce with some pretty ripe jazz rap on “We Can” (you’ve gotta witness this one firsthand!).
Oh, and one can’t omit the appeal of the tongue-in-cheek teasing found on “Chit Chat,” a reference to the chatter found at any table or around any water cooler as folks talk about celebs they’ve never met as if they knew them intimately. The lyrics are cool here and hit the mark. I could go on and on about this topic, but that would actually take me off topic.
The album is just so inundated with groove, rhythm (as in “Rhythm Kitchen”), and spirit that it’s an understatement to say it’s truly a work of art. I recently interviewed this fascinating woman, and I’d be horribly remiss if I didn’t share that experience with you here and now.
Ronald Jackson: I’ve always admired your distinctive sound and technique. I know you’ve played with a lot of greats like Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, and Al Jarreau, and you list a great deal of artists as your influences (from Joe Henderson to the late, great Jimi Hendrix). Who would you say has played the biggest role in influencing you and your style?
Joyce Cooling: My uncle, who was a phenomenal jazz guitarist and musician, has probably influenced me the most. He played with people like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and many other jazz greats. He has since passed on, but if I could play music with anyone today, it would be him.
Ronald Jackson: I learned a short while ago that the late, talented bassist Wayman Tisdale was self-taught. Now, I read that you also are self-taught. Amazing. Does that also mean that you didn’t read or write music when you first began, and do you read and write now?
Joyce Cooling: I can read chord charts, but really struggle with notes on a page. It’s so much easier and faster for me to do things by ear.
Ronald Jackson: Another part to this same question: Since I’m discovering that so many are self-taught and may not read or write music, what would you say to those aspiring musicians who feel that they can’t possibly perform well unless they’re proficient in reading and writing music? Is exhaustive knowledge of music theory a bit overemphasized, in your opinion?
Joyce Cooling: I don’t think that any knowledge is overemphasized, as it all contributes to a greater understanding and insight into whatever you are trying to learn. Music is something that is so deep and far-reaching by nature that you never “arrive” -- meaning that there is always something else to learn or improve upon no matter how proficient you may be. It seems to me that any path that provides more knowledge is a road worth traveling.
Ronald Jackson: Having reviewed your Revolving Door album, I learned that you are also an advocate of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of that album went to that organization, as will a portion of the proceeds from this latest effort. What a worthy and noble cause and gesture! How is work in that area going now? Are you currently involved in any benefit concerts or other activities for the organization?
Joyce Cooling: We are always working on something for NAMI as it is near and dear to my heart. I grew up with a brother who has schizophrenia, and NAMI saved us as a family. So little is understood about diseases of the brain that people afflicted with mental illness and their families often find themselves in a dark, tumultuous ocean without a life raft. NAMI threw us a buoy.
On the immediate horizon, we are doing a walk for NAMI in San Francisco on Saturday, May 30th in Golden Gate Park with our walk team, “Music for the Mind.” If anyone is interested in walking with us or joining our team, all of the info is posted on our website at www.joycecooling.com.
We’re also playing at the NAMI National Convention in San Francisco on July 7th and are playing a benefit for NAMI Urban Los Angeles on July 16th. Again, all of the info is on our website.
Ronald Jackson: By the way, aside from the obvious play on words with this current album’s catchy title, there seems to be much more significance there, such as perhaps a concern for or commitment to environmental issues. Would I be correct in that assumption?
Joyce Cooling: Yes, you are correct. By the way, Global Cooling is a green product. We used 100% renewable source/ recycled paper and non-toxic inks. We used minimal packaging and no shrink wrap.
Besides the eco-friendly packaging, Global Cooling is also about what I like to call our global neighborhood. I love the fact that our world is shrinking with the digital age. We are now in touch with music lovers and kindred spirits from all over the world. Universal concepts have always turned me on, and the music on Global Cooling celebrates our interconnectedness.
In addition, we wanted Global Cooling to be like taking a fun trip where you can visit different places. It’s still contemporary jazz, but we musically touch down in some cool places.
Ronald Jackson: Regarding concerts, I imagine you’re planning a Global Cooling tour. Where will it take you? From a purely biased vantage point, I also have to ask: Do you have any plans to visit the Washington, DC, area at some point in the near future? We so love you here.
Joyce Cooling: We love playing in the DC area and look forward to a return visit. Have gig, will travel! All our dates are posted on our web site.
Ronald Jackson: Of all your magnificent albums, do you have a favorite? If so, any reason why?
Joyce Cooling: I suppose I am always partial to our latest CD. Recording a collection of songs is like taking a snapshot of where you are musically and creatively at the moment. Since things are always evolving, I guess the last snapshot is the one that feels the most relevant to me. Having said that, there are things that I love and hate about all of my CDs. Sometimes you feel like you really nailed something and hit what you were trying to do. Other times I listen back and am flooded with thoughts of woulda, shoulda, coulda. I don’t listen back very often and prefer to move forward.
Ronald Jackson: Thank you, Joyce. All the best to you with Global Cooling and all of your ventures. Before we close, any final thoughts or words to smooth jazz aficionados in general and to your fans in particular?
Joyce Cooling: Thank you, Ron, for taking time to chat with me. I appreciate your support and for keeping us in your corner and on your radar!
My final thought would be to let our music friends know that they are IT. We are interested in what they think and in communicating with them directly. The digital social networks and, of course, our live shows, allow us to be in touch with our music friends. They mean the world to me, and they are the reason we do this as well as the reason we are able to do this. A huge thanks goes out to them, and I’m looking forward to continuing a close, interactive relationship!
‘Nuff said. Here is class with a capital “J.” Global Cooling should be well on its way to the top of the charts by the time you read this.Posted by Ronald Jackson at May 31, 2009 5:10 PM